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Promoting Literacy in the Classroom: Strategies & Tips

Instructor: Sara Matherne

Sara is a middle school English teacher, and has a Master's Degree in Teacher Leadership.

This lesson will help you explore various ways to promote literacy in your classroom that are both educational and fun for students. Learn a few strategies and tips to help your students read for pleasure and by choice.

Reading is More Than an Assignment

If you are an English teacher, it may be your love of a great book that led you down that career path. Reading is one of the most fundamental skills that we teach children in school, but it should be more than an assignment.

You want your students to enjoy reading, and you want them to read for the love of reading. Besides learning to love reading, numerous studies have suggested and proved that students who read well also score better on standardized tests and perform better in all school subjects. Of course, the best reason to promote literacy in the classroom might just be to make your classroom a more fun and relaxed environment.

Giving Students a Choice

The first step to promoting literacy in the classroom is to offer your students the chance to actually read. No matter how tight your class schedule is, carve out at least ten minutes for independent reading time (IRT) a few days a week. Independent reading is one of the best ways to encourage students to read, while giving them accountability and a gentle 'push' towards reading for pleasure.

IRT is easy to set up in your classroom, even if you do not have a huge classroom library already. Choose a small block of class time, make an anchor chart that explains why and how to read during this time, and make the students read. Let them choose their own book to read - whether it's a selection from home, the library, or one that you have provided and recommend. You can visit the school library as a class, and the librarian will happily help each student select a book that fits their personal reading style and interests. Spend some time teaching students how to choose books that suit them well and are on their reading level.

Set the Ground Rules

Once everyone has a book to read, just start reading! Read for the entire ten minutes (or however long you choose), and do nothing else during that time. On your anchor chart that explains how and why your class reads during IRT, list your class rules. You might list the following to help students understand the importance and seriousness of IRT:

  • No talking at all - not even to the teacher.
  • Eyes on your own book.
  • Read during the entire IRT time.
  • Read! A real reader will have their eyes on their book, their eyes will be moving across the page, and they will be turning pages as they read.

Remember, it is important to teach students both how to read for fun, and what real reading looks like. You should be reading during this time as well, at least for the first few weeks. The students need to see that reading is important to you, and that you genuinely enjoy reading.

Tricks to Make Reading Fun

To make IRT a fun and engaging experience for your class, you might need to add in a few tricks. One way to encourage reading is to create a class contest, with a prize for the top reader and for the entire class. Reward your class when everyone has read a specific number of books, or when everyone has tried a book in a certain genre. You can also create lists for the students to fill out that require them to read many different genres. Take a look at this sample handout that can help your students read a lot of books while exploring several different genres:

Sample Reading Challenge Log
Sample reading challenge log

As English teachers, we are very fortunate that we have websites such as Youtube at our disposal. Book trailers have become very popular in classrooms across the country, and they are an excellent way to make books exciting and fun for your students. Book trailers are just like movie trailers - they highlight the best parts of a book, while providing just enough information to make readers really want to get their hands on that book! There are new book trailers made every day, and students really respond well to seeing the book played out in front them.

Once your students are used to book trailers, they may want to try making their own. Because a book trailer is essentially an advertisement for a book, they are easy to create. Students can use a movie-maker program such as iMovie or Andromedia to create their own trailers, or they can simply present their trailers in real life to the class. Either way, make sure you have specific ground rules in place for the assignment, as well as a very specific rubric. Take a look at the following rubric, which details the requirements for a 'book talk', which is essentially a live book trailer or a commercial for the book that the student has been reading:

Sample book talk rubric
Sample book talk rubric

Assess

Finally, once you have an active independent reading time in place in your classroom, and you have the students excited about reading, you should assess your IRT to see if it is effective. Assessment and reflection are an important part of any classroom program or lesson, and reading is no exception.

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